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The Scarlet & Black

River Tiber and Romo. fill Gardner with unique sound

Photo by Leina’ala Voss.
Photo by Leina'ala Voss.
Photo by Leina’ala Voss.

By Halley Freger

On Tuesday night, Grinnellians took a break from their homework and made their way to Gardner Lounge to watch a mesmerizing performance from Toronto’s River Tiber.

Romo., the electronic music project of Jesse Romo ’16 , started off the night by playing some of his original beats. His music combines elements of various genres, including 90s hip hop, experimental electronic and even jazz. Romo kept us on our toes as he swiftly transitioned between jazzy, melodic sounds, and harsh, industrial ones. J’remi Barnes ’19 joined him to sing four original songs. Although his set opened with a lighthearted song about partying, he said that he was going to get some “social justice” in there as well. It is Grinnell, after all. He began to sing the words “kill ‘em with kindness,” exploring the issue of police brutality through an honest and emotional song.

If you haven’t heard River Tiber — well, chances are you have. You just might not know it. The 24-year-old musician’s track “No Talk” was sampled on Drake’s “No Tellin,” off of his surprise mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” Tommy Paxton-Beesley, the man behind River Tiber, has landed himself numerous collaborations due to his skillful musicianship. You might have wondered, “Who is this beautiful voice singing on this Drake song?” It turns out it’s the same person playing cello on BADBADNOTGOOD’s standout track “CS60” — River Tiber.

River Tiber seemed to fit well in our small basement in Grinnell. He’s one person, performing with only a computer, a guitar and a drum machine even though his debut album “Indigo” features a wide range of instruments — everything from cello, to violin to trombone. However, despite River Tiber being a single person with a relatively simple setup, he has a massive live sound.

He layers his haunting voice and guitar over pounding drumbeats and synths. His music is full of juxtapositions — his smooth falsetto cuts through dissonant guitar chords, arrhythmic distortion cuts through clean drumbeats. His experimental, electro-R&B finds the perfect balance between moments of calm and chaos. At times, his set was nearly a capella as he sang backed only by sporadic strums of his guitar. Then, he’d lead immediately into a noise section, twisting the nobs on his pedals, transporting the audience to another world with sounds reminiscent of UFOs.

At one point in the set, River Tiber showed off his skill as he launched into a guitar solo full of fast picking and bends. Regardless of genre, River Tiber is a genuine rock star. He’s unafraid to throw in a wacky jazz chord, folky fingerpicking or a face melting guitar solo, combining them all into a style uniquely his own.

As River Tiber got comfortable, he said he was going to play a song he never performs live. “I haven’t even rehearsed this one,” he said, as he moved his fingers along the neck of his guitar, clearly trying to remember the chords. He played a gorgeous version of “The City,” a song off of his 2013 release “Synapses.” In this reimagined version of the song, the catchy beat of the original was replaced by the rich sounds of his guitar. Although the performance was unplanned, there was an unmistakable confidence in his haunting quaver as he sang; “We could have had it all.” In a moment of spontaneity, River Tiber gave us the perfect glimpse into his eerie, emotive music.

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